Sometimes it can feel like winter will last forever, but in Japan the people of Nagano can finally breathe a sigh of relief each spring when the cherry blossom trees at last begin to bud and turn color, resulting in a splendor of cherry blossoms that is unrivaled. And nowhere else in Nagano are the cherry blossoms more vibrant and intoxicating than at Takato Castle and the surrounding Koenjoshi Park.
Like many cities, Nagano heralds in the warmer weather with an annual cherry blossom festival. The grounds around the castle are host to nearly 1,500 Kohigan variety cherry blossom trees, famed for their immaculate pink petals. They’re rather unique in that their color can tend towards a reddish hue, and generally have multiple petals, a sign of good luck. If you’ve never seen a cherry blossom festival in Japan before – also known by the Japanese term Sakura Matsuri – there are few places better suited to this attraction than Nagano for a number of reasons.
Not only is it one of the few cities whose cherry blossom festival features almost exclusively Kohigan trees, the northern climate of Hokkaido also contributes to a feeling of rebirth and rejuvenation after such a long and bitter winter – spring is a time for celebration across Japan as the cherry blossoms bloom, but residents of Nagano are always particularly enthusiastic about looking forward to summer. There is also, of course, something historically significant about the location of Takato Castle as well.
Although still called by its original name, it is merely ruins now (a result of heavy bombing during WWII), and as you wander through the maze of blooming cherry blossom trees you can’t help but feel as if you’re also walking into the past. All the same, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some parts of the castle have remained, including a traditional drum tower called Takioyagura, as well as the Ounkyo Bridge and a nearby Shintokukan (a term applied to houses where vassal samurai would have once lived).
There are also huge Toyoman Gates that you have to walk through, and already the smell of the cherry blossoms will be wafting over you – so don’t be surprised if the crowds here are heavy: Takato is and remains one of the top hanami viewing locations in all of Japan.
For those wanting a unique experience, the cherry blossom festival usually runs from the beginning of April to the end of April, and can be accessed via train or public transit to the small village/town of Ina within the Nagano Prefecture. If the skies are clear and the sun is out, you might also catch a glimpse of the Japanese Alps in the background.
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Koenjoshi Park and Takatao Castle
Address: Toho Koyo, Takato-cho, Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 24 minutes by car from Inakita Station
Website: Ina City Official Site (Japanese)